Radar Rat represents one of the heroes of Banksy's iconography: the rat. The series sees a brazen rodent standing on its hind legs, with a tape recorder and receiver in hands. Banksy's Radar Rat is an insurgent, and encourages the viewer to question the ever-watchful eye of the establishment.
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Banksy's Radar Rat, building on the artist's recurrent rat motif, portrays a rat resting on its hind legs, wearing headphones and clutching a tape recorder. Originally known as ‘Sonic Rat’, the work was first released in 2004 by Banksy’s print publisher Pictures on Walls (POW), at the artist’s Santa’s Ghetto pop-up shop; 2 years earlier, in 2002, Radar Rat had appeared on several walls around London. In 2008, the image appeared on the cover of Dirty Funker’s ‘Future’ album.
Stencilled in signature Banksy style, the Radar Rat appears to be listening intently to the world around him. The work can be read as a comment on the ever-increasing presence of surveillance equipment in major cities, such as London.
The popularity of the rat as a Street Art symbol began with the rise of Blek le Rat - a French stencil artist who initiated the urban art movement in France during the late '70s. Also known as Xavier Prou, Blek - dubbed the ‘Father of stencil graffiti art’ - began to spray-paint small rats on the streets of Paris, and on the banks of the river Seine. This was "because rats are the only wild animals living in cities, and only rats will survive when the human race disappears and dies out. I wanted to do a rat invasion. I put thousands all over Paris".
Two decades later, stencilled rats appeared on the streets of the United Kingdom, quickly becoming prominent motifs in the work of artists like Banksy. In his influential monograph Wall and Piece, Banksy acknowledged his debt to Blek le Rat, stating that "every time I think I've painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well, only 20 years earlier."
[To learn more about Banksy's Rats, see our guide here.]
Wall and Piece © Banksy 2005
Rats are at the heart of Banksy's art, so much so that some have speculated about the fact that 'rat' is an anagram of 'art.' While this sort of visual-verbal wordplay is certainly a key part of street art, Banksy wrote in his book, Wall and Piece: “I’d been painting rats for three years before someone said ‘that’s clever, it’s an anagram of art’ and I had to pretend I’d known that all along.”
For Banksy, each rat brings his political and social commentary to life – they present street artists, rebels, the downtrodden masses and anyone who feels rejected by society. On another page from Wall and Piece, the artist wrote:
“Rats exist without permission. They are hated, hunted and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilisations to their knees. If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved then rats are the ultimate role model."
It could be significant, given this, that while we have seen Banksy rat prints, and Banksy rat grafitti, we haven't yet seen an original Banksy artwork (beyond the street setting) featuring rats. They are the embodiment of the street artist's 'plague on the state' in their dissemination as well as their design. This must be why Banksy's stencilled street rats have popped up almost everywhere that the artist has visited over for many years. Today in London, rats can still be found on Tooley Street and Chiswell Street.
Find more London Banksy murals to visit here.
Love Rat © Banksy 2004
Love Rat originally appeared as a mural on the streets of Liverpool. It was released as a print in 2004, making it the first Banksy rat for sale as a print, in 150 signed and 600 unsigned editions. At first, it appears that Love Rat was intended to spread love, but the bleeding heart may be a reminder that love can cause pain and suffering, as well as joy. Banksy even promoted this idea, suggesting a Love Rat print is “ideal for a cheating spouse”.
Gangsta Rat (AP Green) © Banksy 2004
Of Banksy's rats that have made it into print, Gangsta Rat, has the most colour variations, with 7 different versions available.
Gangsta Rat, wearing a New York Mets baseball cap, a chain necklace and a boom box, is a homage to the urban art and music scene that was fashionable in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s. The tag behind it, ‘iPOW’, references Apple’s i-products, but POW stands for Banksy’s older printers, Pictures on Walls. The artwork originally appeared as a mural in London in 2004. Later that same year, Banksy released Gangsta Rat with a red ‘iPOW’ as 150 signed and 350 unsigned prints. In 2015, he re-released the print in six additional colourways, including pink, mint green, green, orange, blue and grey for special Dismaland VIP collectors.
Radar Rat © Banksy 2004